clear, convincing, unequivocal evidence for removal.

"svetlana is so beautiful. she's like distractingly beautiful. don't you think she's beautiful?" this is what my boss kept saying about the first-year law student who was going to give me a ride to the northwest detention center in tacoma. chill, i wanted to say, she aight, she aight. svetlana had dark hair and green eyes. she was russian-american, and she had just gotten her citizenship last may. she moved to the u.s. when she was six years old, when her father moved her entire family to bothell, so he could work as a chemist. she went to the uw to study political science and russian literature. now she was interested in family law and possibly immigration law. "but i'm open to just about anything at this point," she said.

i got into her red suv bmw. a pretty girl in law school whose family lives in bothell and who drives her dad's bmw. i asked if she had ever been back to russia. "i've been back a few times," she said. "most recently, though, we went to khazakstan." i immediately wanted to talk about borat, but i held back, and thankfully, she brought it up. "it's so funny that the president wanted to sue borat." "were you or your dad offended by it?" "no," she said, "not at all. i mean, even my dad thought it was a funny movie. he thought there were some gross parts to it, but really, it's more of a reflection of u.s. culture and how americans react to him. he liked it."

she explained more about khazakstan. she said that the cities are well developed, and that even though people's homes are crumbling, they still have hdtv's and cell phones. "things are really bad in the provinces, though. there's an enormous disparity between the rich and poor." yes, there is. and this is a nice bmw, by the way. "does your mom ever go back?" "no," she said, "mostly it's me and my dad. she still thinks that it's unsafe to go back. i mean, even my grandparents think the kgb is still watching them, even though the soviet union fell like - how many years ago?" i nodded, knowing nothing about the kgb or the fall of the soviet union.

"do you think you'll go to law school?" sometimes i think i should go, just so people will stop asking me that question. "no, probably not," i said. "i don't think it would be the right fit for me." "yeah, it's definitely not for everyone," she said. "you really have to be committed." the word "committed" hung in the air, falling into the category of buying a house, getting married, having a child. is anyone ever really ready to do such things? "my boyfriend's sister dropped out after just a semester of law school. and that's already like $15,000." "wow," i said.

we finally arrived in tacoma, and it stunk. "the aroma of tacoma," i said, repeating a phrase i once heard john say. she laughed, and i read off the final directions to get us to the detention center. "oh, there it is," she said, "i can see the barbed wire fence." outside the facility, two women were speaking in tagalog, while a filipino boy sat on the sidewalk. i wondered what family member was being detained. i could've asked, but i didn't. i didn't even try to understand what they were saying. "they're speaking tagalog," i said to svetlana. she nodded. "i wish i knew the language," i said. "you're filipino?" "yeah."

we were waiting for another first-year student, nico, but he got lost. we decided to go in without him. inside the detention center, we had to throw everything into a locker, including keys, cell phone, and wallet. we were only allowed to keep our pens and paper. a white lawyer was talking to two other white lawyers, while a fourth white lawyer sat on the side, reading a book. the white lawyer was talking about how he talked to an ice (immigration & customs enforcement) officer about his client. it went something like this:

"the officer told me, 'we don't do racial profiling.'"
"i said to him, 'you don't do racial profiling? what was this guy doing then that made you pick him up?'"
"and the officer said, 'well, he was at the airport, and he looked suspicious.'"
"'what about him made him look suspicious?' i asked him."
"he said, 'the way he dressed.'"
"'okay,' i said, 'describe to me how he was dressed.'"
"the tsa officer said, 'he was wearing a heavy winter coat.'"
"'what's so suspicious about that?' i said."
"'well,' he said, 'when i go on a trip to hawaii, i don't wear my swimsuit.'"
"'what? so this guy was going to alaska wearing a big winter coat, and you think that that's grounds for him being suspicious?'"

the white lawyer man then said that this tsa agent was an idiot. he went on to talk about how he heard this story on npr about an undercover sting operation that specifically targeted mexican day laborers. "whenever black guys came up to them looking for work, they turned them away. but, if a mexican came up, or a filipino approached them, click." he made a clicking sound with his teeth, then put imaginary handcuffs over his left wrist. the other white lawyers didn't say anything. svetlana and i didn't say anything. i suppose at some point, these sorts of things don't surprise anyone anymore.

an officer finally let us through a secured door and into the courtroom. there were already a bunch of people, mostly mexicans, sitting on the benches in their navy, orange, or red jumpsuits. i heard that the color of their suits indiciates how dangerous they are. the judge, a fat, balding white man, finally arrived, and we all rose for him. nico had joined us by then, too, so the three of us sat in the back row. next door, fat tammy was doing the same thing our judge was about to do. my boss said they call her tammy 50k, 'cause she's fat, but also 'cause she's known for setting bonds at $50,000.

things are fucked up at the northwest detention center, in case you didn't already know that, or assume that. apparently, it's cheaper to hire temporary immigration judges, so that's what the detainees in our courtroom got. the judge would say things like, "this is my first day, so i don't know how long we should give him..." and "i'm new here, so i'm not really sure..." jesus christ, i thought. you are the government, the department of justice. you are a professional judge. people's lives are at stake here. get your shit together. get your shit together.

it really struck me how unprofessional and made up it all seemed. even the federal attorney, this chinese guy, didn't do much. i think i saw him scrolling through folders on his computer, and at some point, he pulled up a word document. he hardly ever made objections, and it seemed like he didn't really give a shit about anything he was doing. it seemed like no one gave a shit about any of it. there was a spanish translator there, and he would translate things for the spanish-speaking detainees.

the judge would essentially read from a script, and the script went something like this:

"the purpose of this removal hearing is to determine whether or not you should be removed from the united states. you have the right to an attorney, but it will be at your own expense. you've been given a list of free or reduced-fee legal service providers. would you like time to find an attorney?"

of the sixteen detainees in the courtroom, only two opted to find an attorney. the rest declined, at which point, the script would continue.

"understand that you can be subject to removal, and if that's the case, you will not be able to return to the u.s. for at least ten years. are you sure that you still want to represent yourself?

"si." translator: "yes."

it states here that you are not a citizen of the united states, but that you are a native citizen of mexico. you entered illegally through (calexico, san ysidro), california on (insert date here)."

"si." translator: "yes."

then, a series of questions would follow: is your mom or dad a u.s. citizen? are you married? do you have children? do you have any reason to fear for your safety if you return to your country?

"based on these statements, i find clear, convincing and unequivocal evidence for your removal. you have the right to appeal my decision, if you disagree."

most said they agreed. some even said, "i would like to leave the country as soon as possible." the judge would then ask the federal attorney, "do you have anything to add?" "nothing to add, your honor."

i wrote on my notepad: it doesn't really feel like it takes much to be an immigration judge - you just read from a script! and i showed it to nico. he nodded. it was all a shitshow. people were getting detained for not filing papers. some families were getting torn apart. taxpayers like myself were paying to maintain facilities like this, to feed judges and federal lawyers like this, to deport a couple hundred undocumented laborers per day, while hundreds of thousands just like them go about their day to day. and the talking heads on cnn just keep spewing the same bullshit about security, border patrol, global terrorism.

how fucking arbitrary and pointless it all seemed. i'd like to leave as soon as possible, too, please.

1 comment:

Gary Baumgarten said...

Bob Libal, the coordinator of Grassroots Leadership's campaign to end immigrant family detention will be my guest on News Talk Online on at 5 PM New York time Thursday Feb. 5.

Please go to and click on the link to the chat to talk to him.